This is David Stern’s final week as NBA Commissioner — the power exchange to Adam Silver comes over the weekend. Feb. 1 is the final day for David Stern on the job, and we all know the final day on a job you’re just screwing around and cleaning out your desk anyway. Stern is taking some long lunches this week.
Which means this week you’re going to see a lot of tributes coming from every corner to David Stern and what he meant to the league over the past 30 years.
That starts with Pat Riley, the Miami Heat president (and former Lakers’ coach early in the Stern era) who gave Stern on the highest praise speaking to Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today.
“David Stern is the No. 1 force, the No. 1 reason why this league is where it is today,” Miami Heat President Pat Riley said. “That’s not disrespectful to any one great player in any one era or any owner. This has to do with the leadership of one man.
“Over that span of time, things don’t change because they’re coincidences. They don’t. There’s somebody at the top who is going to eliminate what is bad and market what is good. He was a very forceful, very pragmatic visionary.”
Owners are going to sing his praises — he has made them a lot of money over the years and molded the NBA into a $5.5 billion a year business. Players should be thankful as well — the pool of money for player salaries is based on how much money the league brings in, and this is now a league where the average player makes more than $5 million a season.
Stern was a marketing visionary who understood what the NBA had to sell was stars — Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to start, building with Michael Jordan and on through today with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and through the rising stars like Stephen Curry. The NBA can’t sell parity and the limited product (just 16 games) like the NFL, it’s a different animal. Stern understood that and steered the course.
The league is much better, much stronger for it. And we as fans are better off for it, too.
After shooting down trade inquiries before the trade deadline and brushing off proposals earlier this offseason, the Spurs are reportedly hearing out offers for Kawhi Leonard.
Except from the Lakers.
Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
The Lakers are reportedly Leonard’s preferred destination. Of course, San Antonio isn’t obligated to send him there. But he can influence the process by stating a plan to sign with only certain team(s) in 2019 unrestricted free agency.
The Celtics and 76ers might have better assets to send the Spurs. But if only the Lakers have a commitment from Leonard to re-sign, they might offer a greater share of their assets than Boston or Philadelphia would (especially if Los Angeles believes acquiring Leonard would be the first domino in also landing LeBron James and Paul George).
Between Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and future first-round picks, the Lakers could offer roughly commensurate value for Leonard. San Antonio might not like those particular players, but a third team could always get involved. Send some combination of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and Hart to a team that wants them and have that third team convey players more desirable to the Spurs.
But that takes thoughtful negotiating, and San Antonio doesn’t seem interested.
There’s a belief San Antonio won’t trade Leonard to a Western Conference team, especially another historically strong franchise like the Lakers. That sentiment seems foolish to me, but it didn’t emerge out of thin air. There are real people – and real hurt feelings – involved here. Grudges sometimes trump rationality.
Maybe the Spurs will eventually explore whether the Lakers present the best offer. But this is at least circumstantial evidence San Antonio will handle this crisis stubbornly.
It’s hard to see through all the smoke and tell if things around the 2018 NBA Draft are solidifying as we get to fewer than three hours before the Phoenix Suns go on the clock.
The Suns are a lock to take DeAndre Ayton at No. 1.
After that, the Kings more and more seem to be leaning toward taking Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, according to multiple reports of those close to the team.
At three things really open up. Atlanta is listening to trade offers but one way or another is likely to pick Luka Doncic. There are rumors that multiple teams — Dallas, Orlando, others — would then trade their pick plus some other asset (young player/future pick) to the Hawks for Doncic. Who the Hawks reportedly really want is Trae Young, but they can move down to get him.
If the Slovenian is off the board, it’s more likely that Memphis trades the No. 4 pick, according to sources. However, there are questions about whether Memphis can get what it thinks is fair value for selling the No. 4. So maybe they just take Jaren Jackson Jr.
How is it going to shake out?
That follows my final mock draft, which was put together Wednesday for the video above. It has:
1. Phoenix: DeAndre Ayton
2. Sacramento: Marvin Bagley
3. Atlanta: Luka Doncic
4. Memphis: Jaren Jackson
5. Dallas: Mo Bamba
6. Orlando: Trae Young
7. Chicago: Michael Porter Jr.
8. Cleveland: Wendell Carter Jr.
9. New York: Kevin Knox
10. Philadelphia: Mikail Bridges
11. Charlotte: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
12. LA Clippers: Robert Williams
13. LA Clippers: Collin Sexton
14. Denver: Miles Bridges
The problem with any mock draft now is accounting for trades, and those are coming.
The Spurs shot down Kawhi Leonard trade offers before the trade deadline. They brushed off Leonard trade offers earlier this offseason.
Then, the already strained situation got even worse.
Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers. He met with Gregg Popovich this week in San Diego, reportedly directly telling the president-coach he wants out.
What are the Spurs doing now?
Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:
The Lakers are in that mix.
The Spurs can try to mend their relationship with Leonard. They could even use a super-max contract – projected to be worth $219 million over five years – to aid that process. They don’t have to trade him.
But the clock is ticking toward tonight’s draft, teams using their cap space in other ways and Leonard’s 2019 free agency.
San Antonio has no choice but to get more aggressive in handling Leonard’s future. This is a small step in that direction.
The Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks and Hornets all grew tired of Dwight Howard.
The Nets did it in record time.
After acquiring Howard in a trade from Charlotte yesterday, Brooklyn is moving toward shedding him.
Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:
In the trade, the Nets dumped Timofey Mozgov‘s $16.72 million salary for 2019-20. Now, they could get a reduction on Howard’s $23,819,725 expiring contract. Brooklyn is doing a great job of unloading bad money.
Next year, the Nets will have their own first-round pick for the first time in six years. Though he has declined considerably from his Hall of Fame peak, Howard can still play some. Brooklyn didn’t need him interfering with its tanking and culture.
Instead, the Nets can focus on developing Jarrett Allen and losing enough to secure the best draft position possible.
It’ll be interesting to see how much Howard surrenders and where he goes. Again, he can still play. But the league is moving away from traditional centers, and he’s high maintenance.